The taxpayer-owned Transportation Investment Corporation deliberately withheld safety documents about the $3 billion-plus Port Mann/Highway 1 Project from theBreaker.
Bureaucratic bumbling at TI Corp meant a Freedom of Information request for the required safety audit of the Dec. 1, 2012-opened Port Mann toll bridge was denied.
The denial was the basis for a Feb. 11 story. Five days later, TI Corp spokesman Greg Johnson claimed that documents did exist, but he said they weren’t sent to theBreaker because they were created before the Sept. 1, 2012 to March 1, 2013 range for the FOI request.
theBreaker demanded the documents and an explanation. It took until March 24 for Johnson to finally send an Aug. 1, 2012 report, with apologies.
“The record should have been sent to you as part of your original request,” Johnson wrote. “It wasn’t included because of a too literal interpretation of the dates you specified. I recognize now that wasn’t in the spirit of the [Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy] Act and we’ll take a look at processes here at TI Corp to make sure we’re assisting as best we can in future.”
Winter storms in December 2012 and December 2016 caused accumulation of ice and snow on the bridge’s cables and towers, some of which fell and smashed the windshields of moving vehicles below.
A source with knowledge of major bridge projects suggested theBreaker find out whether a standard, government-mandated safety audit had considered the risk of so-called “ice bombs” while construction workers finished the bridge.
The records show that it did not.
The mandatory safety audit is about the project in general, rather than the bridge specifically.
Three engineering experts from Canadian Highways Institute Inc. carried out an audit that covered “the geometrics and laning, typical sections, pedestrian and bicycle facilities, and barrier types, signing and pavement markings, which may affect road user safety.”
The scope of the audit, which sought to find potential safety hazards, did not include the cables and towers. John Morrall, Gerald Smith and Robert Dewar’s letter also came with a disclaimer: “no guarantee is made that every deficiency has been identified.”
Further, it said that if all the suggestions in the report were addressed, it would not confirm the highway as “safe”; rather, the suggestions should improve the level of safety.
Behind the scenes
When Johnson finally sent the audit, TI Corp’s outsourced information and privacy manager, Bev Hooper, sent theBreaker an email just two minutes later with a $30 invoice to see an estimated 300 pages of internal correspondence about the file. After the Feb. 10 denial, theBreaker asked to see how TI Corp processed and handled the original request.
theBreaker refused to pay, because government offices and public agencies are not supposed to charge for records created and stored electronically. Hooper’s company eventually sent the 286 pages of partly censored internal correspondence by email, at no charge, on March 29.
One of the pages shows that Hooper had recommended releasing the report without any redactions.
“These responsive records do not contain sensitive information that would be harmful to TI Corp.,” Hooper wrote on Jan. 18. “Recommend the records be released in their entirety.”
Some time between Jan. 18 and Feb. 7, however, someone decided not to follow that recommendation. Hooper was in regular communication with TI Corp officials, including Johnson.
Hooper’s original Feb. 7 proposed response letter said “…we have completed a thorough search of our records and have not located any records that are responsive to your request within the timeframe noted above. If you wish to revise the timeframe, we will reopen your request at that time.”
Instead, theBreaker received a Feb. 10 letter that said: “Please be advised that we have completed a thorough search of our records and have not located any records that are responsive to your request.”
It is not clear why the change was made, because many of the emails are censored under an exception that covers advice and recommendations.
A sign-off form names Hooper, and five TI Corp executives who decide what gets released, including CEO Irene Kerr and vice-president of tolling, Max Logan. Logan is married to Kim Chan Logan, a Telus lobbyist who is running for the BC Liberals against NDP incumbent Mabel Elmore in Vancouver Kensington.
An online FOI manual for public workers says that public bodies, such as TI Corp, are bound by a legislated duty to assist FOI applicants, “to make every reasonable effort to assist applicants and to respond openly, accurately, completely and without delay.”
Rulings by the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner have said public bodies must handle the wording of requests liberally, rather than literally, and clarify requests that may be vaguely worded. “The duty to assist obliges the head of the public body to defer to the applicant’s wishes.”
“The access ‘partnership’ between public bodies and applicants covers both the formal rights and duties under the Act and the informal contacts during the request process. Employees, members and officials of public bodies must work with applicants in a partnership to process every request: both parties have an interest in the efficient, timely processing of requests. Informal contacts between both parties should extend well beyond the formal duties imposed by the Act and regulations.”
TI Corp is also the Crown corporation in charge of the controversial, $3.5 billion-plus Massey Tunnel Replacement Project. Late last year, Premier Christy Clark appointed her former chief of staff, retired Highways Deputy Minister Dan Doyle, as TI Corp chair.